Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bye Bye Property Rights!

Like many others, I'm simultaneously outraged and flabbergasted over the Supreme Court ruling that cities can seize private property for such nebulous reasons as "economic development." Yes, eminent domain is an old concept, but prior to this, it ocurred when highways or airports were being constructed. These items were considered "for the greater good of the community." Now it seems that what is "for the greater good of the community," is anything a city says it is, say, like a luxury hotel and some condos. Here's an excerpt from CNN's report:
As a result, cities have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes to generate tax revenue.

Local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community, justices said.

"The city has carefully formulated an economic development that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including -- but by no means limited to -- new jobs and increased tax revenue," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.

He was joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

At issue was the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property through eminent domain if the land is for "public use."

Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working-class neighborhood in New London, Connecticut, filed suit after city officials announced plans to raze their homes for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices.

New London officials countered that the private development plans served a public purpose of boosting economic growth that outweighed the homeowners' property rights, even if the area wasn't blighted.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been a key swing vote on many cases before the court, issued a stinging dissent. She argued that cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.

The lower courts had been divided on the issue, with many allowing a taking only if it eliminates blight.

"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," O'Connor wrote. "The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

She was joined in her opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, as well as Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
The ideological, Left/Right split on the Court is obvious. As one blogger wrote in a great-titled post (While You Were Busy Protesting The Patriot Act...the government took your house):
What the Left didn’t tell you is that the little guy is only worth protecting if he belongs to some larger, underprivileged group. The plaintiffs in this case were small business owners, and lived in Victorian Era houses; the state should be redistributing their wealth, not protecting it. Individual rights be damned, the greater good must prevail, the bourgeois must be defeated, the Motherland must survive!!!
OK, a bit hyperbolic, but you get the point. I guess Congress could take action, but what faith do you have that the Court won't wiggle this way and that at some future date to reimpose and supposed "solution" to safeguarding personal property from government seizure? Me neither.

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